Jul. 27, 2016

Olusegun Awolowo


Olusegun Awolowo

CEO, Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC)

"We have identified national strategic export sectors to replace oil revenue."


Olusegun Awolowo is the CEO of NEPC, Nigeria’s apex organization for the promotion of non-oil exports to diversify the economy. Prior to his position at NEPC, he worked at the Federal Capital Territory Administration in Abuja as Secretary for Social Development and later as Secretary of Transport.

One of the government's main goals this year is to diversify the economy. What role could the NEPC play in this objective?

We are at a very critical period in Nigeria's history. In 2014 our revenue from oil was $70 billion, while in 2015 it was $40 billion. We know we need to diversify the economy. NEPC is the agency of the federal government with a mandate to do this. Our mission is to spearhead the diversification of the Nigerian economy by expanding and increasing non-oil exports for sustainable and inclusive growth. Our vision is to make the world a marketplace for Nigerian non-oil products. The Council's strategic objective is to diversify the productive base of the Nigerian economy away from oil and foster a market-oriented, private sector-driven economy. Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and we are a resilient people with the strength to endure these hardships, but to do this we also need to prepare for the future by reducing reliance on oil. The change is already underway.

Can you tell us more about the Zero Oil Plan?

We have identified national strategic export sectors to replace oil revenue. We had certain criteria in choosing those sectors: the size of that sector globally needed to be traded at a volume above $20 billion; the degree of complexity involved in the sector; and our own natural ability and comparative advantage as a country. Petrochemicals and methanol is a $150 billion business annually, and despite Nigeria being an oil-producing country, we import these refined petrochemical products. We need to build modular refineries and small petrochemical plants all over the country to take advantage of this export potential. We also looked at soya beans and soya milk and oil, which represents a $100 billion market annually. We looked at sugar; raw, cane, and confectionary. We looked at cotton and yams. Once we had the best textiles in the world and our leather and hides are internationally renowned. We export over $800 million annually to Italy. Palm oil is another huge market, globally generating $30 billion annually. Kenya, Indonesia, and Malaysia used our palm 50 years ago to create their own industries, and now they have developed the whole palm oil value chain. Rice is another huge market, a $25 billion industry, and Nigeria is the number-one importer of rice in the world, importing over 4 million metric tons annually. But rice could be grown here, bringing both employment and increased health benefits. Cocoa is similarly under developed here. And then of course gold, which is traded annually at up to $400 billion. In the northern states there is an old wives tale that on a hot afternoon, when you kick at the sand, you raise gold dust. We have identified all these sectors and products, parallel to the Nigerian Industrial Development Plan, which seeks to industrialize Nigeria by 2020. We need to scale up the production in many of these sectors. The first stage is to increase export volumes and production volumes. We have identified 22 export countries looking to buy these products. Our major trading partner is expected to be the EU for most of those products that we have identified. In cement, we went from being a net importer to a net exporter. We want to see the same results in these new sectors. Our plans are large, ambitious, and perhaps even audacious, but it's time to be that way.

What states in Nigeria stand out in terms of manufacturing and export potential?

We are developing a “One State, One Product" policy, so each state specializes in a particular export product. Enugu exported pineapples last year with a Mexican farming partner. Ebonyi, for example, is focusing on rice. Katsina produces cotton and leather and is the largest producer of hibiscus flowers as well, which are used for our traditional Hausa drink, zobo. Mexico is the biggest importer of hibiscus; people use it for teas, drinks, medicine, and more. This country really is blessed in terms of agricultural products. When you add the value addition potential to all these raw materials, the list is even more impressive.

How would you assess the current legal framework to promote exports?

The export framework is not bad. We are an incentive agency, and our aim is to promote our products as best as we can. When we identify countries that are interested in our products, we try and get into buyers' exhibitions and fairs there and build partnerships and networks. Our role is business matchmaking, taking exporters to these exhibitions, and doing everything we can to promote Nigerian goods.

What are the main concerns of export companies?

We are working on building capacity among exporters. You need to develop capacity so they are well trained, well groomed, well prepared, and professional. Most important is the ability to fill out the right documentation and all the right forms for markets like the US and EU. They have to meet standards in quality, packaging, and labeling. That is crucial if you're going to crack those developed and well-regulated markets. This is especially important for SMEs, and they are the ones we're focusing on.

What major trade agreements have been signed or are expected to facilitate trade?

We are signatories to the WTO and Nigeria is committed to free trade. Having said that, we are going to be looking at ones that are advantageous for us, and then push on those markets. We should not be afraid of trade agreements. It's trade barriers that are killers. We are also signatories of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and the CET (Common External Tariff) for the ECOWAS sub-region.

What are your expectations for the rest of 2016?

This will be a foundation year, getting our plans finished and getting everyone on board for the plan. The results will take a long time to be seen, but this year we want to lay the foundations, raise production, build factories, plants, and manufacturing capabilities, lay the infrastructure, and by 2018 generate about $7-8 billion in non-oil revenues, and then by 2025 to reach $30 billion in revenues. Right now we're at $1.6 billion without liquefied natural gas. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't attain those targets as we are already on the way.